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15/04/14 17:08

First Minister speech to 2014 Scottish Trades Union Congress

First Minister Alex Salmond
Scottish Trades Union Congress, Dundee
Tuesday April 15, 2014

The Scottish Government funds the Equality Award and the One Workplace project. They provide just one example of how the STUC and the Scottish Government work together to promote social justice.

We achieved legislation to help sufferers from pleural plaques against sustained legal challenge from the insurance industry.

We faced down the tobacco industry’s opposition to the minimum age for smoking and the restraints on the advertising of tobacco.

We have campaigned strongly on many issues where the Scottish Government is now delivering- most recently on the provision of free school meals for all children in primary 1-3.

I want to start this morning by making an announcement about another area where we work together.

The Scottish Government is proud to provide financial support for Scottish Union Learning – a service which equips thousands of people each year with new skills and new opportunities.

Scottish Union Learning is currently funded on a one-year basis. I can announce today that we are guaranteeing the Scottish Government’s current level of support - just over £1.4 million a year – for three years until March 2017. We will also work with the STUC to provide greater security around the programmes supported by European funds.

This will help Scottish Union Learning to retain its staff more easily and to plan its programmes more effectively. That security of funding will allow it to support many thousands more individuals.

The passion that drives Scottish Union Learning – how to give people in the workplace more opportunities, how to empower them - is important to the remarks I am making this morning.

Last month, the STUC published the second stage of its report “A Just Scotland”. It is a very welcome contribution to the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future – a further demonstration of how the referendum is unleashing a torrent of ideas, questions and proposals about the Scotland we wish to create and build, and how we are going to create it.

“A Just Scotland” is an excellent title – it assesses proposals for change against a simple test, of whether they will help to build a fairer, more just nation.

The report covers a wide range of topics, many of which I’m sure will come up in the question and answer session. But I’m going to focus today on jobs and employment.

At the moment, that’s a good example of the difficulties and problems that the current division of powers has. The Scottish Parliament has full responsibility for issues such as education and skills, but not for matters such as employment regulation, tax or welfare policy.

For example, during the last two years, the Scottish Government has led initiatives – together with the unions, employers, business organisations, the third sector and the wider public sector - to promote both women’s employment and youth employment.

Angela Constance is the only Minister for Youth Employment in Europe. Her proposed promotion to the Cabinet, with responsibility for female employment, emphasises the priority we attach to both of those issues.

Scotland currently has the eighth lowest rate of youth unemployment in the European Union. But it is still far too high despite the fact we have made some degree of progress.

The Opportunities for All guarantee means that people between the age of 16 and 19 have a chance of employment, training or education. Sir Ian Wood’s Commission on Developing our Young Workforce is producing proposals which will align our education and training systems ever closer to the workplace.

We are ensuring that the great events of this year – the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, the year of Homecoming – leave a human legacy as well as a physical infrastructure legacy. So far, more than 1000 young people have participated in our employment recruitment initiative and the volunteering and training scheme.

And we are delivering 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year, up from 15,000 in 2007.

This policy is and continues to be an overwhelming success. Ninety two per cent of people are still in work 6 months after they finish their apprenticeships.

And it’s because of the success of that commitment –particularly to higher level apprenticeships – that I am announcing today that we will go further.

We intend to create thousands of additional apprenticeship places by 2020 and to focus these on the highest skilled jobs and highest level schemes.

This expansion will take our total target to 30,000 modern apprentices each year – equipping even more of our young people with the skills that they need, for the jobs of the future. A hugely important initiative supported by the Scottish Government and the STUC.

And just as we promote youth employment, so we promote women’s employment.

In September 2012, the STUC worked with the Scottish government to organise a summit on how we encourage more women into work. It’s a good example – a great example - of how the STUC’s passion for equality has had a major and beneficial impact on thousands of individuals, and the economy as a whole.

Sixty five thousand women joined the workforce in the 12 months to January of this year and the vast majority of these were full time positions.

There is still much more to do, but it’s an indication that the actions we are taking together are having an impact. They have contributed to the position where, overall, employment in Scotland is higher, economic inactivity is lower and unemployment is lower than the average across the UK.

However access to job opportunities is just one part of building a just Scotland. We have to see that these jobs are secure, skilled, fulfilling and productive. Scotland needs to be a competitive business destination.

That’s why the Scottish Government has established the “Working Together” group, led by Jim Mather.

The group is ongoing in its work – a copy of its call to evidence is included in your delegates’ packs.

The idea for the review came from my most recent meeting with the STUC General Council. The unions have three representatives - Grahame Smith, Lilian Macer from Unison, and Mary Alexander from Unite.

It’s another example of our approach to social partnership – with employers, employees and the public sector working together to encourage workplace innovation and productivity, to ensure quality jobs and fair pay, and to promote equality and diversity within the workplace.

With independence, we can bring together trade unions, employers, the public sector and the third sector in a National Convention on Employment and Labour Relations.

We can strengthen employment protection; enshrine our Opportunities for All guarantee to young people in law; and abolish the shares for rights scheme.

We can make work pay – guaranteeing that the minimum wage always rises at least in line with inflation.

We can improve female representation on company boards – consulting on a new minimum level of 40 per cent.

At the weekend, I proposed Angela Constance and Shona Robison, the equalities minister for promotion to the Cabinet because they are the best people to lead on policies which are crucial to Scotland’s future. Their appointment means that Scotland’s board, the Cabinet, effectively has 40 per cent female representation. But more importantly perhaps, for public appointments overall, the figure is 39 per cent and rising.

This merit-based approach is the route by which we believe all boards – public and private – can achieve proper representation for women.

Perhaps the most fundamental transformation that I believe is possible is the transformation in childcare – giving our children the best possible start in life, increasing female workforce participation and opportunity, and receiving the tax revenues which flow from that, which will make that transformation sustainable.

There is a fundamental point here, which I think every proposal for constitutional change should be tested against. I believe that we have had some success in encouraging more women into the Scottish workforce. That figure has now reached 70 per cent employment for women in Scotland, which is higher than the UK and higher than it was over the last few years. But it’s still six per cent lower than male participation and employment in the workforce. I don’t think there is any particular reason for that to be apart from the obstacles which prevent that participation of over half the population. It is unacceptable that the talents and expertise of half of our population to be limited in any way.

It is entirely possible, if we embark on the transformation of childcare, if we move to the Scandinavian model, that we can see that rise in participation, that rise in female employment.

But the key matter is this – if we were to achieve a six per cent rise in women working, that would generate some £700 million of revenue to the exchequer.

And therefore the childcare test is this, to make sustainable, progressive policies like a transformation of childcare, we have to control both sides of the balance sheet. You have to control the proceeds of the economic growth that’s generated from the expansion of childcare.

I think the most substantial, the most creative thing about independence is we’ll have the ability to make the choices that we cannot make at the present moment. We won’t be dependent on another government making them for us. It’s true of employment, it’s true of foreign affairs, it’s true of the economy, it’s true of welfare reform, it’s true of the bedroom tax and it’s true of the removal of weapons of mass destruction from Scottish soil.

Over the last 15 years, the Scottish Parliament– not just this SNP government, but the parliament as a whole – has delivered real social gains for this country. World-leading homelessness legislation, the ban on smoking on public places, the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, free university tuition and personal care for the elderly, the expansion of early years education, together with the action to protect employment that I mentioned earlier.

The STUC has played a key role in many of those achievements.

And the Scottish Parliament has worked with you in progress, not an obstacle to reform.

But too often, we have been concentrating on mitigating policies determined by Westminster – policies which over the last four decades have caused growing regional disparities, a shrunken manufacturing base and some of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world.

In September, what Scotland faces is a choice between two futures. We can continue to depend on the decisions of Westminster Governments.

Or we can choose a future where we have the powers and responsibility we need to build on the achievements of devolution.

Independence is about the right to decide, the ability to make choices. And this Government’s argument - our most important contention - is that the people who live and work in Scotland are the people who are most likely to make the right choices for Scotland.

Independence doesn’t guarantee that we will create the fairer and more prosperous Scotland that all of us seek. But it does give us the powers we need, in order to do so. It enables us to make our country as good as it can be. It places Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands. And there is no safer place for Scotland’s future to be placed in.